The Victorian State Election – Lessons for WA Greens

A Labor landslide and a Liberal disaster, with The Greens left in the backwash



By Chris Johansen and Rob Delves, GI Co-editors

[This is our personal reflection on the recent Victorian election. We haven’t had any contact with the Victorian Greens and, as for all Green Issue articles, this submission does not necessarily reflect the views of the Greens (WA)]

In the Victorian State election held at the end of November it seemed to be a case of middle-of-the-road, swing voters jumping from Lib to Lab rather than a general march to the left. The overall Greens vote in Victoria dropped from 11.5% at the previous state election to 10.7% at this one. A major reason for this reduced vote would have been the adverse publicity for some Greens candidates around sexual misconduct allegations in the week before the election. However, it’s hard to decide whether the blame is more with The Greens handling of these problems or Labor’s nasty distortions, especially ripping comments totally out of context and serving them up to the media.

In the lower house (Legislative Assembly), The Greens will continue to hold three seats in their heartland of inner Melbourne – Melbourne, Brunswick and Prahran. Brunswick was gained in this election, from being a traditional Labor seat since 1906, but Northcote was lost. Northcote was won by The Greens from Labor in a recent by-election; in by-elections there is usually a swing against a sitting member, which is difficult to maintain in a general election. But, apart from Northcote, there was a general improvement in Greens votes in these heartland electorates – so not yet ‘peak Greens’ here.

In the upper house (Legislative Council), however, Greens representation slumped from 5 seats to just 1. Most of The Greens leakage was to minor parties, who increased their representation from 5 to 10 seats, out of a total of 40 seats in that house. These minor party seats were picked up with primary votes sometimes well below 5% in electoral regions where Greens primary votes were often well above 5% (Table 1). Greens fared particularly poorly in the harvesting of preferences, with their vote numbers essentially remaining static through the count elimination process while one or more minor parties surged past them. Apparently, the ‘preference whisperer' Glen Druery, had been at work, arranging deals among minor parties to get one or two of them over the line in a given region. Allegedly, these arrangements involved financial transactions, which of course The Greens would not be part of.

Table 1. Micro-parties winning Legislative Council seats in regions were Greens failed to win a seat, in the 2018 Victorian State election (Greens only won a seat in Northern Metropolitan).

Region                           Micro-party        Primary vote for Region (%)

                                                                           Micro-party       Greens

Eastern Metro                 Transport Matters           0.6                       9.0

Southern Metro               Sustainable Australia     1.3                      13.5

South-eastern Metro      Liberal Democrats           0.8                       5.6

Western Metro                Derren Hinch Justice       6.8                       8.7

Eastern Victoria               Shooters, Fish., Farm.     5.0                       6.7

Northern Victoria             Derren Hinch Justice      4.9                       6.6

Western Victoria             Animal Justice Party       2.8                       7.5

So, what lessons can we learn to assist Greens prospects in WA?

  • Best prospects of increasing Greens primary votes, thereby lessening reliance on preferences, is to effectively differentiate ourselves from Labor, to be able bite into their left flank. This process seems to be ongoing in inner Melbourne. On issues like action on climate change and treatment of refugees Labor is inching towards Green’s perspectives, which is fine in terms of addressing those issues but is blurring the distinction between the parties. However, the clear gaps remain and the points of difference need to be highlighted, for these and other issues.
  • Nevertheless, explore ways of attracting swinging, and even centre-right, voters by targeting our campaigning to issues of current concern to them but which are not being adequately addressed by the major parties. In the same way that Kerryn Phelps did in the recent Wentworth by-election on issues like ‘kids off Nauru’ and climate action.
  • Better compete for votes with minor parties having one or few issues compatible with Greens policies (e.g. Animal Justice Party), by pointing out that The Greens can more effectively address those issues, through their more likely representation in parliament, than can micro-parties with limited prospects for representation.
  • Nevertheless, more effectively canvass for preferences among those minor parties with similar policy stances.
  • Advocate for investigation of the legality of ‘preference whispering’ especially when financial transactions are involved.
  • In campaigning, avoid focussing on personal attacks on opposition candidates. This is likely to backfire on The Greens as the major parties are more adept than The Greens in digging up the dirt. We need to stay focussed on promoting our policies, rather than attacking the apparent foibles of opposing candidates.
  • The Greens way of doing politics has always been the equality and mutual respect of men and women at all levels. We have been able to maintain close to 50:50 gender ratios in our MPs right across the country, and have women in leadership roles at all levels of the party (national to regional groups). This needs to be maintained, built upon and projected to the public. The sexual misconduct allegations in the Victorian election would have undoubtedly reduced the female vote, which needs to be restored. Women’s participation and mutual respect between sexes are currently major issues across all of society and The Greens need to be shining in this regard.
  • Thorough vetting of all Greens candidates is needed to avoid the scandals of the type that hit the press in the week prior to the Victorian election. However, this process is not as straight forward as it may at first seem. Without knowing all the details about the two candidates who attracted controversy in the Victorian election, it appears the party acted on sound principles in each case. It immediately stood down the Sandringham candidate who was accused of rape, but retained the Footscray candidate who had produced rap material about “date rape and faggots” – many years previously. People can turn their lives around, learn from their mistakes, and come out much stronger for all of that. As Samantha Ratnam, The Victorian Greens leader, explained: “The Greens believe in people’s capacity to change. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be in politics.” We strongly support this principle. It’s worth fighting for. Of course, we also acknowledge the argument that if Labor is going to trawl as low and dirty as they did, then maybe we need “extreme vetting”. Acknowledge, but reject strongly for so many reasons, one of the very minor ones being that the words remind us of Trump’s obnoxious attitude to refugees. There are very important principles around our values and how we treat people as individuals. We have all the great religions and humanist traditions on our side here.